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US Marines Charged With Murder, Other Crimes in Haditha Killings

Four U.S. Marines have been charged with murder in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha November 19 2005. Mike O'Sullivan reports, another four Marines face related charges, announced Thursday at Camp Pendleton, California.

The Marines were part of a convoy from Kilo Company, Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment that was moving through Haditha when a bomb blast killed one Marine and injured two others. Marine Corps officials say the unit also came under small arms fire. In events that followed, the Marines killed five men who approached in a taxi, and men, women and children in nearby houses.

The squad members had said they were under attack and that the killings were justified.

Marine Corps Colonel Stewart Navarre announced the charges, which, he says, followed thorough investigations.

"Based on the findings of the investigations, various charges have been preferred against four Marines relating to the deaths of the Iraqi civilians on 19 November, 2005," said Colonel Navarre.

Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who led the squad, faces 12 counts of murder of Iraqi civilians. A 13th count charges him with the murders of six others killed inside a home on his orders.

Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz is charged with five murders. Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt is charged with three. Lance Corporal Steven Tatum will face two murder charges, another four charges of negligent homicide, and two counts of assault.

The Marines are charged with unpremeditated murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Four officers will also face charges that include dereliction, false reporting, obstructing justice and making false statements. The highest-ranking officer is Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, who is charged with dereliction and failure to investigate and report unlawful killings.

The day after the incident, the Marine Corps issued a statement saying 15 Iraqi civilians were killed in an insurgent explosion and that Marines and Iraqi forces killed eight insurgents in the follow-on firefight. The Marine Corps spokesman says that statement is now known to be incorrect.

An Iraqi journalism student provided a videotape of the scene to a Time magazine reporter, and the resulting Time story prompted several investigations, and sparked international condemnation.